Webb Telescope Discovers 830-Million-Year-Old Galactic Filament
June 29, 2023 - Discovery of Filamentary Structure with 10 Galaxies Provides Insight into the Evolution of Cosmic Web - NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has made a groundbreaking discovery, identifying the earliest strands of the cosmic web, a vast interconnected network of galaxies and voids in the universe. Astronomers have found a thread-like arrangement of 10 galaxies that existed a mere 830 million years after the big bang, providing valuable insights into the evolution of cosmic structures. This remarkable finding has the potential to reshape our understanding of the early universe and its formation processes.
The newly discovered filament, spanning an impressive 3 million light-years, is anchored by a luminous quasar—a galaxy with an active, supermassive black hole at its core. The filament resembles the well-known Coma Cluster found in the nearby universe, leading scientists to believe that it will eventually evolve into a massive cluster of galaxies. The quasar at the center of the structure, named J0305-3150, outshines its host galaxy with its remarkable brightness.
Dr. Xiaohui Fan, a member of the research team from the University of Arizona, expressed surprise at the length and narrowness of the filament, stating, "I expected to find something, but I didn't expect such a long, distinctly thin structure." This early filamentary structure represents one of the earliest associations between a distant quasar and a cosmic web, marking a significant milestone in our understanding of the early universe.
The discovery was made as part of the ASPIRE project (A SPectroscopic survey of biased halos In the Reionization Era), which aims to study the cosmic environments of the earliest black holes. The project plans to observe a total of 25 quasars that existed within the first billion years after the big bang, known as the Epoch of Reionization. By investigating the emergence of these massive black holes, ASPIRE aims to enhance our current understanding of cosmic structure formation.
Dr. Joseph Hennawi from the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained, "The last two decades of cosmology research have given us a robust understanding of how the cosmic web forms and evolves. ASPIRE aims to understand how to incorporate the emergence of the earliest massive black holes into our current story of the formation of cosmic structure."
In addition to the filamentary structure, the ASPIRE project also explores the properties of eight quasars in the young universe. Researchers have confirmed that the central black holes of these quasars, which existed less than a billion years after the big bang, range in mass from 600 million to 2 billion times that of our Sun. Understanding how these black holes grew to such immense sizes in such a short period remains a key focus of investigation.
According to Dr. Feige Wang, the principal investigator of the ASPIRE project, "To form these supermassive black holes in such a short time, two criteria must be satisfied. First, you need to start growing from a massive 'seed' black hole. Second, even if this seed starts with a mass equivalent to a thousand Suns, it still needs to accrete a million times more matter at the maximum possible rate for its entire lifetime."
The Webb telescope's observations have also provided significant evidence of how early supermassive black holes may regulate star formation in their galaxies. These black holes not only accrete matter but also generate powerful outflows of material, which can extend beyond the black hole itself and impact the formation of stars on a galactic scale.
Dr. Jinyi Yang, leading the study of black holes within ASPIRE, stated, "Strong winds from black holes can suppress the formation of stars in the host galaxy. Such winds have been observed in the nearby universe but have never been directly observed in the Epoch of Reionization. The scale of the wind is related to the structure of the quasar. In the Webb observations, we are seeing that such winds existed in the early universe."
The remarkable findings from the Webb telescope have been published in two papers in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on June 29, contributing to our ever-expanding knowledge of the cosmos. As the world's premier space science observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope continues to unlock mysteries in our solar system, explore distant worlds, and unravel the origins of our universe, reaffirming humanity's place in the cosmos.